Patients Hurt by Court Ruling Against Medicinal Marijuana

Illustration showing phrase medical marijuana with a pot leaf

Mesothelioma cancer patients utilizing marijuana for medicinal purposes were dealt a setback earlier this month when a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of the government’s long-standing classification of cannabis as a top-tier, dangerous drug.

The ruling dismissed a challenge to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s refusal to reclassify marijuana and loosen the restrictions that mostly prohibit the production, sale and use of it.

Many cancer patients have been using marijuana to combat the nausea and appetite loss that typically comes with chemotherapy treatments – and to help with pain management –, but the appeals court still sided with the DEA, making it much more difficult to obtain legally.

Although voters or legislators in 18 states have enacted laws in recent years making medicinal marijuana legal (under strict controls) – and two states have legalized it for recreational use – the federal designation remains unchanged after the court ruling.

The DEA, under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, with no accepted medical uses, placing it alongside heroin and LSD.

“To establish accepted medical use, the effectiveness of a drug must be established in well-controlled, well-designed, well-conducted and well-documented scientific studies with a large number of patients. To date, such studies have not been performed,” the DEA stated in defense of its decision, which was used in the appeals court opinion.

Americans for Safe Access, a marijuana advocacy group, and several disabled American veterans, brought the case in October 2012 before a three-judge panel. The DEA has rejected a similar petition in 2011.

Proven Medicinal Use

More than 200 published studies were cited by Americans for Safe Access – including one by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a governmental health advisor – to demonstrate the medical efficacy of marijuana, but the overall reasoning was rejected by the court.

“The IOM report does indeed suggest that marijuana might have medicinal benefits. However, the DEA fairly construed this report as calling for ‘more and better studies to determine potential medical applications of marijuana,’ and not as sufficient proof of medical efficacy itself,” the court opinion read.

The Americans for Safe Access has organized a conference called Bridging the Gap between Public and Policy, for Washington, D.C. on Feb. 25. It will include a Congressional lobbying effort that day.

The chief counsel for the ASA already has said it will seek another hearing before the full, nine-person appeals court, and a possible appeal to the United States Supreme Court on the matter.

“We’re disappointed, but not surprised,” Steph Sherer, ASA executive director, told the Los Angeles Times of the recent ruling. Sherer told the Times that more than one million patients have used marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Pain Management

The use of medicinal marijuana in Western countries can be traced back to the 19th century when it was used to relieve inflammation and pain. It was shown to help with convulsions and spasms, providing quick relief for a number of symptoms associated with physical ailments.

Mesothelioma patients in states where it is legal for medicinal purposes must have a prescription from a physician and a registration card to use the plant. The laws vary from state to state.

Although smoking marijuana provides the quickest relief from pain, patients already with lung problems can consume it through the digestive process by eating it in baked goods. Drug companies also have developed synthetic versions that can be taken in pill form.

Patients in various trials have reported its usefulness in improving sleep quality and increasing appetite, which are common problems with cancer patients. It also has helped with nausea, pain and anxiety relief. Additionally, it has shown to have fewer lasting side effects compared to many opiates that are prescribed to cancer patients by doctors.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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